My mane mistakes? There have been many, and the journey back to full hair health hasn’t always been a smooth one. From brushing bloopers to straightening no-nos, curling kinks to being too hot tool friendly, it’s been a journey, but the bright side of it is that many lessons have been learned. Sometimes the smallest changes to our hair care routines can make all the difference and so I’ve taken a stroll down memory lane and spoken to a trio of stylist supremos to compile an expert’s guide to the biggest styling mistakes to help make the road to healthier hair less rocky. Here are the pitfalls from the pros to watch out for.
You’re applying too much product
If your hair styling plans normally fall flat, incorrect product placement could be a useful first port of call. “Often applying product to the root area can cause grease and oils to build up, which will make your hair appear dull, flat and greasy,” explains Craig Taylor , Hari's Creative Director and GTG Expert . By being more strategic in where it’s applied, the greater the likelihood that it’ll help instead of hinder your handiwork. “Think about where your hair requires the benefits of the products - this should relate to how you style your hair or the condition of your hair,” he says, and go slow - adding more product is infinitely easier than having to remove it by having to wash it all out.
This simple yet effective modification has been incredibly handy for me when it comes to repairing my relationship with my trusty bottle of hair oil. Dehydration is my key concern however, product overload was leaving my lengths looking dull. Rather than focusing on what I was using, turning off autopilot and shifting my focus to how I was using it made a huge impact. “Always apply hair oils to where the hair needs it most,” says Craig (which for me, are my ends). “This could be where hair is at its driest or where the hair is most stubborn and helps its appearance when styling.”
You’re brushing too harshly
Just like when brushing your teeth , brushing your hair too harshly could also end up doing more damage than good - especially if your hair's already damaged from too much colour or styling. The most snag-free of protocols? Start from the bottom up. “Work from underneath first and work your way to the top sections of the hair,” advises Craig. “Always work from the ends to the roots to avoid tearing and damaging the hair and take your time and be gentle.” Brush-wise, not all tools are created equal. Craig’s firm favourites are natural bristle brushes (sames), as well as a gentle detangler such as a Tangle Teezer , £13.50. My hair and handbag are also currently loving Wet Brush’s new portable Mini Pop Fold brush , £7.99, which also has a useful mirror in its handle too.
You’re washing your hair in hot water
I absolutely love a hot shower, especially with the chillier winter nights drawing closer. However, it won’t be doing my already dry hair any favours. “Piping hot water dries out the hair and strips away moisture,” cautions award-winning Afro hair stylist and GTG Expert Charlotte Mensah .
However, that needn’t mean that ice cold showers are the way forward (thank goodness) - just being cautious that your temperature dial doesn’t veer too far into the red will suffice. “Washing tresses in warm water will still cleanse effectively, plus will help seal and be much more gentle on the cuticle, resulting in a happier head of hair.”
You’re over-curling your hair
My favourite hair tool is by far my curling tong but admittedly, my endeavours have been far from consistent over the years. And unfortunately (for me), errors in technique are often ones that Craig highlights as being among the most detectable to notice. “I see people making a lot of mistakes but some of the worst are when people over-curl their hair, practically at the roots and or at the ends,” he says. His advice? “Always start at least 3 inches from the roots and leave the ends for a more natural looking result.”
For waves, he also recommends trying out 'denting' or 'bending' for creating a more natural finish. "To bend the hair, hold the section on the tong, wrapping it loosely around it while holding the ends unwound. To dent the hair, hold the section tight and press the tong onto the section for a few seconds. If the hair has taken too much movement, hold the section and run the tong along the hair swiftly to knock out the over movement."
You’re not brushing your curls through
I’m always guilty of this particular mistake despite the fact that a final comb through can make all the difference between channelling your inner pageant queen or Victoria Secret model. “Put your head upside-down to loosen the roots and make sure the tonged sections are broken up," advises Craig. "Your fingers work perfectly well for the job but if you prefer a tool, I personally favour a wide-toothed comb such as ghd’s Detangling Comb , £7.50, for making tighter ringlets let loose a little.
You’re over-straightening your hair
Few tools have made as much of an impact over the last decade as hair straighteners have. Everyone has one in their artilleries however, overuse can often leave hair looking completely flat and pancaked against the scalp (I unfortunately have the university pictures to prove it). According to Craig though, there are some cardinal rules that can prove helpful for making the most of them and keeping marks and ridges where the irons have been too aggressively clamped to a minimum. “Keep natural body at the roots and whatever you do, don’t overly flatten the ends,” he advises. “Do this by gently brushing the section and putting the straightening irons where you want to start the straightening. Very gently clamp the hair, don't slam them together and slowly clamp them tighter as you work down the hair if required.” Finish by carefully opening them as you ease off of the hair at the preferred place along the hair length, for a snag-free and more natural finish.
You’re using too much heat
When it comes one of the worst ways we’re ageing our hair, the experts I spoke to are unified in agreeing that too much heat from hairdryers, straighteners and curlers can be a one of the worst culprits. When mixed with environmental factors such as sun exposure, chlorine from pools and salt water, the health of our hair can fade, fast.
It is avoidable though. Over-styling is one of the main mane mistakes that master stylist and GTG Expert James Pryce (best known for styling Kate Middleton's hair on her wedding day) has seen over the years. A huge advocate of embracing and enhancing your natural hair, he feels that injecting an element of self-celebration into your routine could be a game-changer - and I definitely agree. “It should look like you haven't tried at all. Even if secretly you have,” he says. “If you have curly hair, then roll with it. Dig out that diffuser from the back of the cupboard, pop in some curl cream and bring those curls back to life. If you have straight hair then find a good stylist and tell them you want to be able to simply rough dry your hair. My hair ethos is ‘Use what nature gave you.’”
If however, you’re also looking for a less intensely heated way to go straighter should you want to, James recommends ‘wrap drying.’ “It’s the simplest and most effective way to style your hair,” he tells us. Sounds promising. “Rough dry till hair’s about 80% dry, then hold the dryer above your head so it's aimed towards the top of your scalp. Using either a paddle brush or Denman brush, simply smooth it from one side to the other until it's completely dry. This will give a really nice natural finish. If you want to encourage your curls, then take sections of wet hair around the size of a two pound coin. Twist it from root to tip and either use a diffuser or let it dry naturally and watch your natural waves blossom.”
Too much heat can be particularly detrimental for dry and Afro hair types in particular and so seeking less scorching means to style lengths can be more fruitful both in the long and short-term. “Constant blow-drying and ironing damages cuticles, splits the strands and dries out the hair,” warns Charlotte Mensah. Her recommended alternative? “Rather than blow-drying and tonging, try roller setting instead. As this involves less direct heating being applied to the hair, this option is a kinder way of getting hair smooth. And remember, whenever you’re heat-styling your hair, always use protection first.”
You’re tying up freshly washed hair
A little bit of grease isn’t a bad thing - especially when it comes to giving updos increased staying power. “Save wearing your hair up for day two or three,” James recommends. “It will be far more malleable. I find that people often over wash their hair.” Your natural oils can act as the ideal in-built hair product. And it’s free. “The oils in your hair are a natural barrier against many things such as pollution and can even protect against styling tools,” says James. So save your sebum and forgo the buns on day one.
You’re not getting regular trims
This is a rule in the pros’ hair handbooks that applies pretty universally - even if you’re looking to grow your hair out. “As tempting as it may be to hold on to your length, it can do more harm than good,” says Charlotte. “The ends of your hair are old and have been subjected to blow-drying, brushing, straightening and more, so if you don’t trim them away, it won’t style well. What’s more, once the ends start to split, it travels up to the mid-lengths causing the damage to spread.” I tend to look to book in for a haircut at about 6-12 weeks after my last haircut however, shorter hair types are more likely to find smaller breaks more beneficial for maintaining their length (say between, three and seven weeks). It's your call though but the main factors to consider are the style you're looking to maintain plus, how damaged your hair is. For Afro hair types, Charlotte recommends the 6-week rule. “If you want your hair to style, curl and hold better, have trims every six weeks. Once the damaged hair is removed, it will look and feel so much healthier.”
You’re not having regular treatments
Of the at-home variety. “Afro and curly textures can struggle in the cold weather,” notes Charlotte. “What’s more, central heating can dry out the hair, leaving it dull and dehydrated. “It’s so important to apply a treatment every two weeks to rehydrate, strengthen, protect and maintain hair health. A rich oil in-salon treatment such as my signature Manketti Oil Treatment , £48, is ideal.” Cantu Shea Butter Leave In Conditioning Repair Cream , £6.99, is also great for more regular use and counts Janelle Monáe as a loyal fan. I also use Kerastase Chronologiste Essential Balm Treatment , £25.55, on a weekly basis for replenishing my thick and thirsty hair - an intensive creamy hair softening pot of joy that keeps dry ends at bay, but that doesn’t feel too heavy. The perfect balance.